Ranger faculty stays true to the core professional values of journalism.
By R. Eguia
The Ranger newspaper has experienced all three modern critical junctures in communication since its inception in 1926. Radio, television and Internet have revolutionized how the world receives news while completely reconstructing the industry that journalists operate in and how they present facts.
Industry entry points have changed, requiring an entirely different way of advising students.
Journalism Chair Marianne Odom said students used to identify with a single skill, specializing in photojournalism, newswriting, feature writing, broadcast or layout. Now a student must acclimate themselves to all news disciplines because those specialized jobs don’t exist as they used to.
After The Ranger, students may pursue majors that will benefit the kind of reporting they want to do, studying business or political science to be more competitive. The modern reporter is expected to know it all, and reporting for The Ranger teaches them the core of professional objective reporting and all of the opportunity to figure out how they will tell the story, which is constantly evolving.
These students now enter an industry with varying standards for objectivity.
Chet Hunt, who served as journalism chair for 10 years, said objectivity is sorely missing from modern journalism. “There is a trend for readers to only read what they agree with. There are two different versions of the news out there,” he said.
Unfortunately, modern media has been politicized and journalists need to be asking the right questions, he said. Reporting the news in the information age presents a challenge because the world is overwhelmed by distrusted data.
Robert W. McChesney, professor at the Communication Center for Global Studies, part of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, said critical junctures in media are defined by a revolutionary new communication technology that undermines the existing system. This causes a popular distrust in the content of the media because of political dis-equilibrium related to social unrest.
The Internet has introduced a million new things the news has to compete with outside of the million new platforms that call themselves news. It’s a challenge for students, let alone average citizens, to distinguish what is journalism versus what is calling itself journalism — three sources versus none and subjectivity on so many levels.
Reporting Instructor and former Ranger editor Irene Abrego said she believes in the watchdog role of news agencies in a democratic society. “Everything we learn comes from reporting,” she said.
This mentality is used in The Ranger newsroom that she advises today. Student reporters are tasked with questioning the government that controls their education. “We believe the time to be informed is before something happens,” Odom said.
When there was higher enrollment at this college, all of the reporting classes were required to cover at least one district board of trustees meeting. “If you can cover district, you can cover any government meeting. It’s a valued skill,” Odom said. She said the administration has always supported The Ranger because they understand the importance of a free student press, even if they don’t like the headlines.
Lynnell Burkett, who served as the journalism chair for six years, said The Ranger is the only medium that pays close attention to what happens in the district.
Compared to other community college journalism programs and some four-year institutions’ programs, the journalism faculty never assign “fake,” or practice, stories. A student is challenged to go out and get the news instead of simply turning in something for a grade.
In the 1970s, the University of Texas at Austin experienced a surge of applicants to the journalism school. Burkett said its faculty referred students they could not accommodate to this program.
“They recognized the quality. They would tell undergrads to go to SAC and then come back,” Burkett said. “The whole purpose of The Ranger is to learn how to be an excellent journalist.”
Odom remembers seeing The Ranger staff at regional journalism competitions while she was teaching at Tyler Junior College. “Ranger students were practicing journalism with freedom and responsibility of professional journalists,” Odom said.
Like professional journalists, student journalists at The Ranger have always had to make themselves available to their sources to get the story. This means being accessible to busy district officials for comments before 7:30 a.m. or calls to facilities after 6 p.m. Or being on call for that one hard-to-reach official who has been flooded with appointments and meetings all week. Simply covering board meetings until well into the evening is a huge dedication for students who have families, hobbies and course loads. This week’s committee meeting ended at midnight.
This is why reporting classes begin with many bug-eyed hopefuls and end with critical champions of time management and team work. Students who register for reporting classes at this college are explicitly told when they register that they are responsible for producing a paper and must make arrangements to be available for the expectations of a newspaper.
The struggle to make a deadline is easily obscured by unreasonable part-time hours, demanding classes required to graduate and heavy college existential priorities.
Potential journalism champions used to be groomed in a program formed by W.B. “Dub” Daugherty, who taught at this college from 1968 until he died in 1995.
At his memorial service, Dorothy Estes, then-longtime adviser to The Shorthorn at the University of Texas at Arlington, recalled her first encounter with Daugherty at a college journalism conference. She said he sat down, put his feet up and declared he was going to create the best college newspaper in the country and the other advisers were going to show him how.
As enrollment in the 1970s grew, so did the faculty, including Burkett, Gerald Townsend and Chet Hunt.
Burkett said there was a surge of interest in journalism because Watergate made journalism exciting, but also because of Daugherty. “He was completely devoted to the program and fearless. He taught everyone in the department to not be intimidated because he would never be intimidated,” Burkett said.
Daugherty, Burkett and Hunt launched the Urban Journalism Workshop, a two-week immersion boot camp organized for high school students from 1985 to 2013. Students had to be nominated by their teachers for excellence in writing and apply to be a part of the workshop where they were tasked to create one issue of a newspaper with their peers.
Odom said the best part of that program was to see the students grow, often unaware of their own abilities until given the opportunity to report.
The Ranger newspaper has been giving students this opportunity for 90 years and reaping the awards. In 1988, The Ranger was named Best Non-daily Student Newspaper in the nation by the Society of Professional Journalists. Editors at the time were Russ Lopez and Abrego.
The Ranger also has regularly been a winner or finalist for the Pacemaker, awarded by the Associated Collegiate Press to two- and four-year institutions for journalistic excellence.
The first issue of the Ranger, published March 25, 1926, as The Junior Ranger, included this: “This is our paper. We have the material and the news. Now all we need is the cooperation of the entire student body … Remember that ‘the eyes of Texas’ are upon us.”
The Ranger went live online in 1997 and, now, Ranger reporters are writing for the eyes of the world.
Odom said the biggest challenge for modern journalism on the Internet is how much competition there is for attention. Students and citizens are reading now less and less because there are so many other things to do with their time, so the modern reporter must present facts in ways that will engage and excite interest.
Despite dwindling readership across the nation, most respondents in a recent Pew Research Center study still think watchdog journalism is critically important. Reporters operating in this critical juncture have a huge responsibility to the truth.